It’s that time again for my, and my librarian husband’s, top ten books. These are selected from books we read this year – not books published this year. You can read our lists from 2017, 2016, and 2015 by clicking on the years.
Here are some facts and figures about my list:
- None of my top 10 books were published this year (although I did read plenty of recently published books)
- I read 94 books this year (including a couple of manuscripts)
- Three of the books on my list have been made into wonderful films: The Hours, The Wall, and My Abandonment (filmed as Leave No Trace), (and You Should have Left is in production)
- Neatly, five female and five male authors made it onto my list (of my 94, 56 were female)
- Two of my top ten are English translations from German: You Should Have Left and The Wall
- The shortest book I read – You Should Have Left – made it onto my top ten. It’s 111 pages, but they are tiny pages. The longest I read was Night Film at 640 pages.
- I listened to two of the novels on my list, and loved them so much I bought a physical copy: After the Eclipse (also the only non-fiction book on my list), and Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard
- For an article I wrote in October about haunted house novels, I read several ‘scary’ books that I hadn’t heard of before, and two of them (You Should have Left, and The Elementals) made it onto my list.
My best reads of 2018
Top 3 (in no order)
After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry
This is a different Sarah Perry to the one who wrote The Essex Serpent and Melmoth. This is a memoir about Perry’s mother’s murder in 1994, when Perry was 12 and hiding in another room. Beautifully written, raw, unsentimental and utterly engrossing. Read this if you enjoyed Educated.
The Wall by Marlen Haushofer
Translated by Shaun Whiteside, this was first published in 1968. An invisible wall traps the narrator in the Austrian Alps where she has to survive alone. Most of the book is a catalogue of her daily tasks, which I loved to read about. But it also considers how much we need other people or whether animals alone can provide enough love. Read this if you enjoyed Z for Zachariah, and post apocalyptic novels.
The Innocent by Ian McEwan
My librarian husband recommended this saying, ‘I think it’s about spies… in Berlin… I think it was good..’ Well, it is about a kind of useless spy / telephone engineer called Leonard who works on a secret tunnel on Russian territory in Berlin in 1955. I was happily reading along, when WHOA! something shocking and totally unexpected happens and the book goes off in a completely different direction. Read this if you enjoyed Any Human Heart.
The Best of the Rest
Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley
Why didn’t this win all the prizes? Beautiful writing, but it’s the character of Stella that I enjoyed even more: fierce but self-contained, steady and powerful, loving and enduring. It’s about her life from about 13 to her early 50s. Babies and work and tragedy and love, and life. Read this if you enjoyed Stoner.
Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey
Published in 2014, nearly every line is a stunner. It’s inspired by Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat which is an added bonus. It’s a letter from a woman to another who was her best friend, and what happened, and what she thinks about when the best friend came to stay. Read this if you enjoyed The Dept. of Speculation.
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann
Translated from German by Ross Benjamin this tiny novel is about a screenwriter who goes to stay in a modern holiday home in the Alps with his wife and daughter. Interspersed with the screenplay are his thoughts about his marriage and what is happening in the house, as well as odd notes he doesn’t remember writing. It soon becomes very scary. This books punches far above its weight. Read this if you enjoyed The Shining.
My Abandonment by Peter Rock
This is about a girl living in a nature reserve with her father. When they’re discovered and rehoused things start to go badly wrong. There are shocking moments and sad moments and the voice of Caroline is wonderful. The film (Leave no Trace) has a very different ending, but is equally brilliant. I’m a bit sad that all the reviews of the film don’t seem to mention the novel. Read this if you enjoyed Our Endless Numbered Days.
Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard
A young woman comes to stay with a married but childless couple, and changes both their lives. The husband is particularly hopeless and annoying, but goodness I love everything EJH writes. It is perfection. Read this if you enjoyed The Past.
The Elementals by Michael McDowell
The McCrays and the Savages go to their two summer houses on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. But there is a third house at Beldame, one that is slowly being consumed by sand, a house that none of the families will enter.. I loved that it is written in such a realistic style, the dialogue is snappy, and the father/ daughter relationship between Luker and India is fascinating. The sense of place – of heat and sun and sand is great. Read this if you enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
I watched the film of this shortly after it was released in 2002, but I only picked up the book this year. Luckily I watched it long enough ago to not remember much about the story. Three stories: A fictionalised account of a day in the life of Virginia Woolf when she was living in Richmond and desperate to move to London; A day in the life of Mrs Brown who is struggling with her life as a wife and mother, and goes off in the middle of the day, hires a hotel room, and reads Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf; A day in the life of Clarissa Vaughan who is arranging a party for friend, and one time lover, Richard.
The stories (in particular the latter two) come together at the end with heart-stopping tragedy. (But, oh! that terrible cover.) Read this if you enjoyed Mrs Dalloway.
My librarian husband’s Top Ten
My librarian husband’s top 3 in no order
Rest of the Best
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
- The Weather Changed, Summer Came and So On by Pedro Carmona-Alvarez
- Lullaby by Leila Slimani
- Educated by Tara Westover
- The Summer House by Philip Teir
- Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson
- Resevoir 13 by Jon McGregor